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Pentagon Contracts Commercial Satellite Imagery Firm

The U.S. Defense Department has contracted with a commercial satellite imagery firm for exclusive rights to all pictures of Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has access to super sophisticated spy satellites and reconnaissance aircraft capable of capturing highly-detailed, ultra close-up images of Afghanistan.

But defense officials confirm the Pentagon has also contracted with Space Imaging, a privately owned U.S. based firm considered the leading commercial supplier of satellite photos.

Space Imaging owns and operates the Ikonos satellite, the world's first commercially available satellite capable of one-meter black and white imagery. The firm also has exclusive overseas rights to distribute imagery from remote sensing satellites owned by the government of India.

The Pentagon says its deal with the firm gives it "exclusive access" to imagery that can support "Operation Enduring Freedom," the code name for the current military mission in Afghanistan.

Officials decline to give any details. They will not say whether the decision to purchase the firm's images is designed to prevent the news media and others from studying the war zone.

Space Imaging says its Ikonos satellite is capable of easily identifying objects such as cars and trucks. But the firm say with one-meter imagery individual people cannot be clearly seen.

The firm charges up to $200 per square kilometer of imagery. The Pentagon will not say how much its contract with Space Imaging is worth.

It is not clear why the Pentagon took the step of purchasing exclusive rights from the company. According to Space Imaging, under the terms of its license, the government can impose restrictions on its satellite activities - including the shutdown of Ikonos sensors.